The Future of Customer Experience

Looking ahead to 2021, our Senior Consultant Claudia uncovers six trends that will transform customer experience in the future

2020 has been a year of enormous change – cast your mind back just twelve months and consider all the ways your day-to-day life was different to today. Change does not always happen so fast though, nor so obviously. Often it creeps up on us, catching organisations unaware when it finally becomes apparent that they are no longer relevant to their customers’ lives.

As the world around us evolves, so do customers’ expectations of brands and businesses. In the current climate, some things are more important than ever, some considerations have been dropped from the agenda, and some new priorities have emerged. At The Foundation, it seemed to us like a good time to take a look at how the great shake-up of 2020 is affecting customer experience. And so in partnership with our friends at Khoros, we invited 20 of our friends from different businesses to come together for an evening of lively debate and discussion, looking at a range of future trends and using them to think about what the future of customer experience might hold.

Future trends help us to develop a view of what our customers’ lives might look like in three to five years. By taking a broad, outside-in view across cultures, geographies, industries, and technologies, we can anticipate how these shifts might affect any given business much more effectively than simply looking for answers within one sector.

We started out with 25 trends spanning technology, politics, the environment, the economy and culture, and over the course of the evening whittled the list down to six significant areas of change that point to changing customer experiences in the coming years.

  1. Rise of the humans: The prevailing narrative around technology seems to be that robots will take over everything. On the contrary, we felt that against a backdrop of digital fatigue (Zoom burnout anyone?) and unreliable online information, the true value of human connection and expertise is growing - even representing a point of difference that people are prepared to pay more for.

  2. Data making decisions: With great data comes great responsibility, but gradually customers are becoming more comfortable with handing over their data as the value exchange becomes clearer and more convincing. As technology improves, the expectation is that data can and should be used to improve the ease of decision making - even anticipating and predicting needs – and to strengthen and streamline security through biometrics.

  3. Finally flexible: Though it’s been talked about for many years, the circumstances of pandemic life have forced us to finally realise the possibilities of truly flexible living. Virtual events are becoming more accessible and higher quality, people are working from many different locations beyond the office and at times that suit them. These liberating changes bring a slew of new expectations though, from the cleanliness and safety of public spaces to customer support available at any time of day or night. If customers are working flexibly, businesses must be flexible too.

  4. Redressing the balance: If we were stressed in 2019, 2020 has tipped our collective anxiety over the edge. The context of political, economic and environmental uncertainty combined with a global pandemic has taken a toll on many people’s mental health. Yet lockdown and the ensuing lifestyle changes that have resulted from COVID have ironically given people the opportunity to slow down and reconnect with what is most important to them.

  5. Never convenient enough: Although not news to anyone, increasing convenience for customers felt enduringly important in our discussion. Customers expect anything and everything to be deliverable, at the click of a button and on subscription. Ultimately, this isn’t just about minimising the physical effort required, it’s about minimising the decision-making required and automating as much as possible.

  6. Crash of the titans: Google is facing an historic anti-trust case in the US, indicative of growing concern about the levels of wealth and influence held by a handful of tech superpowers. But what does all of this mean for customers? Ultimately, they’re likely to be the ones that suffer as they get caught in the crossfire between tech companies and regulators. This may drive them to embrace alternatives, for instance supporting small, independent businesses with a tightly defined offer over a behemoth like Amazon.

As Gaston Berger famously said, ‘the purpose of looking to the future is to disturb the present’, so the real power of these trends is not in their theoretical discussion but in their application. Businesses that use them to inform innovation and transformation will stand a better chance of not just meeting customers’ evolving needs and expectations, but anticipating and exceeding them, surprising and delighting customers with experiences they hadn’t yet realised they wanted. We have known since ancient Greek times that ‘change is the only constant in life,’¹ and yet so many individuals and organisations were caught completely unprepared by the events of this year. When the dust settles and life returns to a new normal, there will be many businesses that breathe a sigh of relief and go back to focusing on the day-to-day. Some, however, will take heed from the monumental challenges of the COVID crisis and look at how they can prepare themselves for future disruption. Will your business be one of them?

1. This quote is attributed to Greek philosopher Heraclitus

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